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Synthetic weed scares students

By Shannon Scheidell
On July 13, 2011

Andrew Begeot has smoked a number of legal products that elicit the same relaxing effects of marijuana, but nothing has treated him quite like Mr. Nice Guy.

"I tried all the other kinds; "Purple Dragon," "K2." But, "Mr. Nice Guy" is the only thing that made me trip; like literally, I fell," Begeot, 21, said.

In the U.S., there are several products on the market that contain the cannibinoid that provides these "desired" effects. In Florida, each can be obtained quickly and legally. The shelves of gas stations and convenience stores are lined with these products passed off as "potpourri" and "incense."

The words "Not for human consumption," are printed distinctly on the front of the packages of these substances, according to Begeot.

The products are often displayed beside tobacco pipes and rolling papers.

Unlike his previous experiences with "Spice" or "K2," Begeot said that "Mr. Nice Guy" (formally known as Relaxinol) caused the world to skip a beat, and then he blacked out.

"The whole world was fake, like it kept repeating itself over and over. My uncle came in [the room] and said something to me, but after that I don't remember anything," Begeot said. "I woke up around midnight and rinsed my mouth out, and my teeth were all broken."

Begeot's sordid Relaxinol experience happened in May, and he and his friends continue to smoke synthetic blends. Begeot said you won't catch Begeot with another pack of Relaxinol, though.

Friend Tylor Strachan, 18, said he didn't feel any of the symptoms that plagued Begeot.

Not all strains of the synthetic compound produce the same effects. Users have described dizziness, vomiting and hallucinations. According to regular smokers, however, they experience the same hungry, happy and sleepy compulsions that the real deal produces.

"I have known a few people to die from an unexpected overdose from using this crap [Relaxinol]," said Jonathan Davis, a UCF student and club member for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. "No one has ever died from marijuana use - no matter how potent - but on the other hand, this K2 and ‘legal weed' is killing people left and right, causing seizures, birth defects, and god only knows how it tears up the lungs."

A synthetic alternative to the THC (tetrahyrdocannibinol) found in cannabis was originally manufactured to treat multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy patients.

"Mr. Nice Guy" does not have the same chemical compound that the oral spray Sativex and the pill Marinol have, both of which are prescription drugs. However, all three forms of the drug contain the most basic cannabinoid needed to procure the calm feeling that doctors and smokers, alike, aim for.

The chemical, JWH-018 produces similar effects to THC and is found in both of these products. It is currently banned from production and sale in 18 states, but Florida legislation has yet to make a decision on the matter.

According to a CBS News article titled "DEA cracks down on fake weed," as long as the prohibition of the drug focuses on a specific strain of the chemical, more and more variations will arise, without actually solving the problems the drugs induce.

Begeot said consumers can buy the spray online, which is used to make the locally-bought herbs easier to work with. The herbs are laid out on a baking sheet, soaked with the synthetic THC spray and baked in the oven.

A new chemical, JWH-073, became readily available in Germany in late 2009, soon after JWH-018 was banned in January of the same year.

Strachan has been smoking for months and now wonders if his recent stomach pains are related to the drug.

"Sometimes I throw up after I eat. I don't know if that's what it's from, though," Strachan said.

Strachan said his symptoms started when he began smoking Spice on a regular basis.

Fedorah Philippeaux, a pre-med student, has done a background check on the history of both the legal and synthetic versions of the drug.

"I am a pre-med student and I have written research papers before on the effects of marijuana and its positive effects on sick patients, particularly those suffering from cancer and going through chemotherapy," Philippeaux said. "I don't see it as dangerous from a medical standpoint, especially in comparison with the synthetic stuff which has been known to cause rapid heart rates, elevated blood pressure, anxiety and vomiting."

The dangers of smoking synthetic mixtures of herbs contrast with marijuana's effects, according to the CBS article. Consumers are reported to experience a decrease in their level of anxiety and depression when taking the drug, but some have also said they have suffered severe consequences within minutes of consumption.

"In some cases there have been hallucinations and seizures. I don't know about you, but honestly, I'd rather people smoke the real stuff instead," Philippeaux said.

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